The new “Star Wars” is everything we hoped it might be...and even more
There is no way to write about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with any depth. Due to a marketing blitzkrieg on a scale never before seen, it was nearly impossible for the film to be anything other than a success. Even the prequel films, which most fans mention with a scoff and a headshake, were tremendous moneymakers for Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries, and at the time were well received by fans who were desperate for any return to a galaxy far, far away, no matter how wooden the actors and stilted the dialogue.
George Lucas captured the imaginations of an entire generation in 1977 with a simple tale of good vs. evil. The accompanying decades of toy sales and comic books and novels and games did an excellent job of maintaining a presence throughout the childhood of pretty much everyone since. “Star Wars” is a zenith of capitalism and cross-platform sales. It is a behemoth amalgamation of nostalgia and disposable income.
But what does this mean for film fans? Is the newest entry into the “Star Wars” canon, when separated from the flood of commercials and products and television spots, worth anything artistically? Does that question even matter? As a film critic, I have no idea. What I can say is this: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is damn fine entertainment and easily matches the original films in tone and quality. What that means for the “Star Wars” hype machine is anyone’s guess.
The film works for all the reasons the prequel films did not. It is well cast, well directed, beautifully shot, and carefully paced. It is clearly a collaborative effort, rather than a single vision, which allows the film to breathe and soar in places that the previous three films never managed. George Lucas, for all of his imagination, became insulated by his success. He didn’t need to listen to anyone, because he could easily afford to fail. Disney, on the other hand, is determined to protect their $2 billion investment in order to continue to make the films for the next century and, eventually, control all of the world’s capital.
As such, J.J. Abrams protected the film by essentially remaking “Star Wars: A New Hope.” The film is altogether familiar and new, a perfect melding of fan service and forward vision. Each new character has shades of the old. Rey is the lonely orphan from a desert world while Finn is a world-weary man who has seen too much due to an unsavory occupation.
Han Solo and Chewbacca return, the former stepping into the gap left by Obi-Wan Kenobi, although he’s a much cooler, less serene mentor for a new age of impressionable children. And the Empire, now known as the First Order, continues to bet the house on giant space lasers.
What really makes the film, however, is the marriage of practical and digital effects. This year has seen a resurgence of practical effects, starting with “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Real costumes, real sets, and real locations give the film the sense of place that was lacking from Episodes I-III. Finally, strange creatures and strange languages occupy the same space as the heroes, allowing for quality performances. The actors, as I mentioned, are excellent. Lines are well delivered, humor is situational rather than forced, and melodrama is sparse, if not absent entirely. Gone are the whining and the lovesick nonsense. In their place, adventure and excitement return.
Despite the excellence of this film, it’s important to remember that this is just the first step in a complete “Star Wars” overhaul. Disney is committed to releasing a new “Star Wars” film every Christmas for the foreseeable future. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is slated for 2016, with Episode VIII following in 2017. While logic dictates that subsequent films can’t possibly maintain the quality of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Marvel Films, which is also under the Disney umbrella, says otherwise.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an encouraging first step. The idea of many movies using a multitude of new directors, each with their own style and input on the films, can do nothing but strengthen the franchise as a whole.
But Han Solo would offer a warning to anyone that thinks the franchise is saved from mediocrity: “Don’t get cocky.”